"The K of D: An Urban Legend" opens with a voice in the dark. A tight spotlight slowly comes up on a young woman crouched on the floor. She's bubbling with excitement as she announces she has a story to tell. The moment conjures campfires, strange noises in the night and deliciously scary chills up the spine. It's an apt beginning for the grown-up ghost story playing out on the stage of Illusion Theater in Minneapolis.
Laura Schellhardt's one-woman show, which premiered at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C., in 2006, relates the tale of a long-ago summer in a small Ohio town, when a young boy died in a car accident. His twin sister, Charlotte, received his dying kiss, which, rumor has it, imparted to her a lethal gift -- the kiss of death.
In a tour-de-force performance, actor Renata Friedman takes on more than a dozen different roles to tell the story of the consequences of this fateful kiss. She displays a chameleon-like command of voice and body language as she conjures the gang of kids who are Charlotte's friends. There's the blustering, posturing Quisp Drucker, self-styled leader of the group; mature-beyond-her-years Becky Ray Von, who smokes a bubble-gum cigarette with the panache of a Hollywood vamp; the earnest and ultimately noble Trent Hoffman; the dizzily empty-headed Steffi Post, and the silent, withdrawn Charlotte who's at the center of this story.
Surrounding these children is an adult world that's heavy with sinister overtones, from Charlotte's oddly detached mother, to her vaguely menacing father, her creepy neighbor Johnny Whistler, who was driving the car that hit her brother, and Johnny's parade of girlfriends. They're larger-than-life characters, drawn from a child's point of view, with ambiguous motives and unpredictable actions that seem to forebode some greater mystery.
Throughout it all Friedman and director Braden Abraham carefully manage the complex psychological tone of this show, where elements of dark humor and raw violence jostle with hints of the supernatural.
"The K of D" is stunning in its simplicity. With only one prop -- a skateboard -- Friedman re-creates a time and place and the small world of individuals that inhabit it out of little more than her own versatile performance. Matt Starritt's ghostly sound design adds to the atmospherics, but this is essentially a theater experience distilled to its essence of a story told around a fire to a captivated audience. Haunting and compelling on many levels, this regional premiere is an outstanding showcase of both Friedman's and playwright Schellhardt's talents.
Lisa Brock writes regularly about theater.